THE decision by the British Medical Association (BMA) to refuse to re-enter contract negotiations for doctors in training will be welcomed by every trade union member in the NHS and indeed by every worker in the country.
By refusing to sit down with the employers to re-negotiate the existing contract between these trainee doctors and the NHS, the BMA has thrown down the gauntlet to the Tory government and its plans to drive up the working hours of junior doctors while at the same time cutting their pay.
These negotiations started as far back as 2013 and were viewed by the BMA as an opportunity to negotiate a new contract for junior doctors that would stop the atrocious working conditions under which they were forced to regularly to work an exhausting 90 hours a week.
These negotiations were halted in October last year when it became apparent to the BMA that the Tory-led coalition were not interested in safeguards to prevent overworking by junior doctors, and the resulting inevitable threat to patient safety, and were insisting on cutting back even the meagre rights to breaks that they are entitled to.
Since the election of a Tory government, this position has hardened with the threat to impose a new contract that is even worse than that proposed last year. On pay, the government were insisting changes to the ‘banding supplement’ which involves extra pay for long anti-social hours being worked – it was the existence of this supplement which helped drive down the working hours of junior doctors from the atrocious and dangerous levels that they had been forced to work in the 1990s.
Under the new banding, the Tories are seeking to extend standard working hours from 60 hours a week to 90. Any hours worked beyond these at the moment attract an extra payment. The standard hours will be extended from 7am-7pm Monday to Friday to 7am-10pm Monday to Friday and Saturday as well without any extra payment for the extra hours.
The overall effect of this would be to dramatically cut the pay of doctors forced to work anti-social hours while removing the financial disincentive to hospital bosses to make doctors work more hours than at present. When the BMA put these proposals out to consultation by its junior doctors group, over 99% of the doctors in training polled rejected any deal that cut pay and endangered the lives of patients.
In a statement, the leader of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, said: ‘In the face of proposals from the UK government which amount to imposition in all but name, the UK junior doctors committee has decided not to re-enter contract negotiations. The BMA believes that the changes currently being proposed are unsafe for patients, unfair to doctors and undermine the future of the NHS.’
He added: ‘This is the time for doctors to stand together as one profession and unite in defence of doctors’ working lives so that we can continue to provide safe, high-quality care for all our patients.’
This refusal to enter into protracted and useless negotiations with a Tory government determined to slash pay and increase hours is to be applauded.
It stands in stark contrast to the shameful position of all those trade union leaders who continually sell out their members by holding out the promise that the Tories can be persuaded by arguments across the negotiating table to be ‘reasonable’.
There can be no negotiated settlement with the Tories. They are ruthlessly pursuing a policy of smashing up the NHS, and the only thing that will stop them is for them to be kicked out. Refusing to go back into the treacherous trap of negotiation is a big blow to the Tories. However, Health Secretary Hunt is on record as threatening ‘Be in no doubt: if we can’t negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract …’
The BMA and its junior doctors have refused to be intimidated by this dictatorial threat. This is the same threat of dictatorship that all trade unions face from the new anti-trade union laws that are to be rushed in, in the autumn. However an injury to one is an injury to all! Any attempt to impose contracts onto the BMA will be resisted. This resistance must be supported by strike action by the whole trade union movement, to bring this government down and bring in a workers government that will defend the NHS, not destroy it!